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Who are YOU grateful to? Book Review: "Still Surprised" by Warren Bennis: Book Review

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a.k.a. How to Develop a Moral Compass


Q: What do Warren Bennis and the Academy Award winning character played by Helen Hunt in the Best Picture of the Year movie, "As Good as It Gets" have in common?
A: They both "make you want to be a better man (and woman)."

I was never a big time crook, although I have swiped a few "Sweet and Low's" and unopened mini bottles of ketchup and mustard in my time.  And I was never a perpetrator of animal cruelty, although I do confess to incinerating a few ants with a magnifying glass years ago.

So how is that I have grown into someone who can't stand to lie to trying hard to return money if I find it on the street and to literally feeling pain if I kill a fly?

How did I find my moral compass?

Rightly or wrongly, accurately or paranoidly, I experienced the world as judgmental, critical, conditional, dismissive and a number of additional negative ways.  I think you get the drift.  To get even with that world that I felt powerless towards I developed a cutting sarcastic wit and deep cynicism (I was not going to stand by quietly anytime I saw kindness, generosity and/or graciousness and not try to cut it down).

The greatest gift that it was my good fortune to receive has been a string of mentors who saw the good in me that I didn't, believed in me when I couldn't, rooted for me when I wanted to quit, and kicked my butt when I needed it.

I know that all of them wanting nothing more from me in return than my "paying it forward" to others what they had given so freely to me.

I have tried to do that, but I have always wanted to do more and this I hope will be in small measure a chance to do that.

In the last five years, four of my five mentors have died (and I'm even tearing up with gratitude laced with sadness as I write these words).  My last and perhaps most profound one is happily still alive, productive, articulate, wise and has just released his memoir: Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership (Josey-Bass, August 16, 2010, $27.95).

Having a mentor like Warren Bennis not only makes you want to do a better job, it makes you want to be a better person.  They can transform you from a cynical, sarcastic, chip on your shoulder victim into someone who acts to help the world and wouldn't hurt a fly.

If you read Warren's book, you will be much the better for it.  If you have that parent or mentor who loved and supported you, it will cause you to contact them (or their family if they have died) to tell them how much you appreciated them.  If you didn't have such a parent or mentor, it will cause you to feel an ache for what you might have become if you had.  More importantly it will inspire you to give to the world what you never received and when you do, you will be transformed.

Here is my amazon review:

Read at Your Own Risk, August 21, 2010

Mark Goulston - See all my reviews    

This review is from: Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership (J-B Warren Bennis Series) (Hardcover)

"One of the best things about hearing people say such nice things about you is that it gives you something to live up to" -- Warren Bennis speaking at a USC event honoring him and after a number of people spoke to talk about his impact on them.

Warren Bennis is not merely respected by the people whose lives he has touched, he is beloved. To so many -- including Howard Schultz at Starbucks, David Gergen of CNN, Sid Harmon of Harmon Kardon and Betsy Myers, advisor to President Obama -- he is not just that mentor or friend that makes you want to be a better person, he is frequently that parent you wish you had. For those who were homesick for a home they never had, and sick from the one they did, Warren's loving mentoring provided them with a home at last.

What does this have to do with this engaging, heart warming, and uplifting memoir? If you read it, Warren doesn't tell you how to be the kind of leader, parent and mensch that the best part of you wants to be, he shows you how with a story that is seasoned with humanity and spiced with humility and is so memorable that it will easily serve as a guide and template for you.

I don't want to give away too much, but one story that makes me smile was about Warren having a conversation with undergraduate friends at Antioch about meeting a German woman in a bar in Germany at the end of WWII and going back to her room to do what you do in such a situation. He explains that going to such a bar, meeting such a woman and going back to her room was not something one such as he should do. He then talks about waking up the next morning and with the sheets pushed to the side realizing she had a prosthetic leg. When he shared this with friends at Antioch they told him that he must publish it as an essay in one of the school's publications. He did that whereupon he was suddenly launched into "superstar" status for the rest of his years at college.

Why "read at your own risk" as the title for this review?

As you read this book and understand how Warren more than grew up, but evolved into such a beloved person, it may give you an ache to have had him as a mentor or parent if you haven't had either. And if the lack of either is great, that ache can be profound. On the other hand there will be few other books that you will read that will help you to become the parent or mentor to others that you never had. And if you can do that, the ache will go away and you too might become someone who is beloved by others. And there is no better transformation for you than to give onto others what was never given onto you.

If my lack of objectivity is betrayed by my love and appreciation for him, that's MY story and I'm sticking with it. It is also why I dedicated my book, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone to him which in great part is an elaboration of something he has taught me by who he is much more than what he does: "When you deeply listen to people, get where they are coming from AND care about them when you're there, they're more likely to do what you'd like them to do."

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